Melissa Kiguwa

Co-Founder of Obánj

Melissa Kiguwa (CEO), has a background in the entertainment industry working as a radio and television host; a producer for both commercial and broadcast radio including the BBC World Service; and for Get Lifted Production Company, where she focused on the development of new scripted projects. She is now the co-founder of Obánj, a luxury jewelry company where for as low as $29/month members rent Dior, YSL, Gucci, and more.

Where did the idea for Obánj from?

I began my career at 19 as a freelance journalist traveling the world. I traveled to China, Guatemala, and Kenya. I lived in Uganda for four years and London for two. I then went on to try my hand at Hollywood where I was fortunate enough to work alongside some of the most prolific talent of our time. Through my experience, regardless of city, locale, or organization, what remained true was this insidious, unspoken rule that women should dress and look far above our pay-grade. I realized this meant fashion and beauty became another “pink tax” we endured to stay in the game. I was tired of being expected to perform a femininity that costs a lot while not being paid enough to maintain the aesthetic. Beauty is glorious, but it shouldn’t be a yoke.

Hence, Obánj. Because I want conscientious, ambitious women to walk through the world with their heads held high. And I don’t say this as a form of whimsy, but as in, when you expect better, you demand better. When you feel emboldened, you can say no, negotiate higher, and if need be— walk away.

How we look in the world impacts how we move in the world impacts how we’re perceived in the world impacts what we demand of the world. It’s all connected.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My co-founder and I keep hacker hours… we tend to work late into the night and have late mornings. It works for us as we can work with our natural circadian rhythms.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Ha! Just do it!

What’s one trend that excites you?

It’s not necessarily a trend, but there tends to be 2-3 golden years of incredible commerce alongside a proliferation of cultural innovation after major pandemics. The Spanish Flu gave us the roaring 20’s which brought with it the flappers, an increase in alcohol consumption, and luxurious jewelry a la the art deco movement. Though we’ve all been through a harrowing year, this excites me because I truly understand there is light at the end of the tunnel.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I am an incredibly clear communicator. I say what I mean and I can sense when others do not understand what I am saying. I will change my communication style to match who I am speaking with so that we both feel heard and understood after the conversation.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I don’t think much about that. I did what I could with what I had and if I knew better, I would have done better. But everything my younger self did got me here, so she couldn’t have been that bad, right?

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

Entrepreneurs not paying attention to China’s business in Africa and South America will be left behind in 10-20 years.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Read voraciously. I love to read books, but audiobooks work as well. Consume not just what the experts of today write, but consume books on history, economics, social psychology, etc. There are only a few new things, but mostly whatever you are experiencing now, someone somewhere has experienced already.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Leveraging influencers to spread awareness about the brand. Because of my professional background, I understand how to utilize talent to build an experience.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One? I think being an entrepreneur is realizing there are so many opportunities you may miss and sometimes the ones you go after aren’t that great either. You keep learning, growing, and iterating until you find your flow.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I desperately want more women to get into construction. Whether it be creating technology that automates the logistics for construction companies or even securing contracts to repair and rebuild bridges around the United States… there is so much opportunity waiting to be realized.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I can’t remember, but I’m sure it was something to eat.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Zoho Books! It’s a life saver in dealing with our accounting.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Americana: a 400-Year History of American Capitalism” because it provides great perspective and insight into how capitalism has evolved in the United States and where it is going.

What is your favorite quote?

Since I was a teenager, I have always loved this quote by Henry David Thoreau:

“… I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation… I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life… to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…”

Key Learnings:

  • It is important to be forward-thinking. The past is gone, the future is all possibility.
  • Entrepreneurship provides the opportunity to understand what you are made of and to fully invest in an idea.
  • Focus, work-ethic, and discipline will take you where talent cannot.